June 4 – why they’ll never forget

9 Jun

victoria park candelight

(Pic: Associated Press)

There are some things in Hong Kong which, every so often, take your breath away. A clear day from the Peak, sunset over Wu Kai Sha, a dog wearing booties and sunglasses. Even for a cynical old bastard like me, last Monday’s June 4 memorial gathering in Victoria Park for the fallen of Tiananmen was pretty special.

It took us about 30 minutes to get the few hundred yards from Causeway Bay MTR to the park. The route was loud and boisterous, campaigners shook banners with angry zeal, rattled collection boxes and pressed pamphlets into our hands. I concentrated mainly on not having my sandaled feet stomped on in the crush and shielding my ears from the incessant barrage of the loud speakers.

By the time we got to the park, it was already full to bursting as dusk descended on another hot, sticky Hong Kong night, just as it had done 23 years previously. Then, of course, the troops had already entered Tiananmen Square, on the orders of leader Deng Xiaoping, who told them to clear the area of student democracy protestors at all costs. The army was told the students were trying to destroy China, and in a way they were, for the ideas they promoted could never co-exist with the Communist Party in its current form. The state-sanctioned killings continued well beyond the square, though, as dissidents all over the capital and the country were arrested and purged – maybe thousands in all.

All Hong Kongers could do was sit and watch on in horror, helpless. And the same is true today.

We didn’t understand much of what was being said, but words weren’t really necessary to explain the sea of 180,000 candles flickering defiantly under the full moon.  Names of the dead were read out; there were chants of, “June 4. Never Forget!”; and survivors of 1989 spoke in cracked voices – most notably wheelchair-bound Fang Zheng, whose legs were crushed by a PLA tank.

“Seeing this sea of light I’m so shocked, I don’t know what to say – anyway, saying anything is unnecessary – because your actions have already said everything,” he said.

“You haven’t forgotten what happened 23 years ago.”

We take democracy for granted in the West. Not even more than a third of Londoners could be bothered to turn out to directly elect their mayor a month ago. Here in Hong Kong, where we all live in such prosperity and comfort, where human rights are protected and we are free to come and go as we please, only half of the legislature is directly elected by the people and, crucially, the CEO is not. Democracy is still in its infancy here, and people are passionate about it.

That’s why Monday’s vigil was not just about remembering June 4 and those that died in trying to turn China into a better place; and not just about campaigning for the Party to loosen its censorship of the event and finally acknowledge what happened. It was more than that. It was about 100,000 ordinary people showing that once democracy has taken root it is impossible to supress. It’s not ideal, but what goes on across the border is far worse.

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